Page 102 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 46

Basic HTML Version

94
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
hon e s t se lf-exp ress ion a n d ind iv idua lity , was a t odd s with t r a ­
d ition as he perce ived it, with its re q u i re d con fo rm ity , beliefs,
an d fu lf illm en t o f du ty . A gnon was, a t times, ‘o f th e Devil’s
p a r ty ,’ as William Blake said o f M ilton — an d he knew it.
As an O r th o d o x Jew , A gnon dow np layed his gift. H e even
suggested th a t he was no t an o rig ina l w r ite r bu t a scribe, a
‘s o f e r , ’ w r i t in g u n d e r d iv in e in s p i r a t io n . L u d ic ro u s ly , h e
claim ed th a t his m a in works w ere no t his novels o r sh o r t stories,
bu t his an tho log ies on the H igh Holy Days an d th e g iving o f
th e T o r a h a t S inai.3 Similarly, he re fu sed to acknow ledge fully
the in f luence o f o th e r E u ro p e an w riters, even F lau b e r t whom
as a young m an he h ad virtually idolized fo r his striv ing a f te r
artistic p e r fe c t io n .4 H e p ro fe ssed a lm ost a trad i t io n a l yeshivah
s tu d e n t ’s re luc tance to adm it th a t he re ad secu la r li te ra tu re .
(W hen asked abou t a collection o f K afka’s works in his book ­
cases, he rep l ied th a t it be longed to his wife.) H e insisted th a t
the p r im a ry in fluences on his w ritings were th e Bible, T a lm u d ,
M idrash , R ash i’s comm en ta ry on the T o ra h , th e la te r com m en ­
ta to rs on the T a lm u d , th e g re a t m edieval H eb rew poe ts an d
rabbis, especially M a im on ides .5 O ne would th ink th a t he h ad
tra in ed to be a rabb i, an d h ad only accidentally been side tracked
in to l ite ra tu re .
FAMILIAL ROOTS
A g n o n ’s a t t i tu d e tow ards his trad i t io n an d his a r t m akes little
sense d e tach ed from his social an d re lig ious b a ck g ro u n d .
A gnon was th e p seudonym o f Samuel Jo s e p h Czaczkes, b o rn
in to a family o f fu r r ie r s in th e Galician town o f Buczacz. His
fa th e r an d m a te rn a l g r a n d f a th e r had h igh hopes , la te r d isap ­
po in ted , th a t he would follow in the foo tsteps o f d is tingu ished
rabb in ical ancesto rs . A g n o n ’s g r a n d f a th e r , a h a rd , pu r itan ica l
figu re , ap p e a rs in various d ream - like stories as th e em b o d im en t
a pious tale while he is really an accomplished artist, well in control o f
his subject matter.”
Op. cit.,
p. 102.
3. See, for example, D. Canaani,
S.Y. Agnon Be’al Peh
(Conversations with
Agnon), Hakibbutz Hameuchad: Tel Aviv, 1974, pp. 34, 96-7.
4. See Agnon’s letters to S.Z. Schocken,
Ha-Aretz
26.7.1963, p. 10, particularly
the one dated 27.12.1916.
5. See S.Y. Agnon,
Me-Atzmi el Atzmi
(From Myself to Myself), Schocken: Jer­
usalem & Tel Aviv, 1976, p. 26.